After serving Douglas County for 17 years as a prosecutor, District Attorney Brian Fortner announced Tuesday he’s decided to run for state court judge next year.
Fortner told the Sentinel he will run for the seat that has been held by State Court Judge W. O’Neal Dettmering Jr. since 2001. That’s the year the state court, which oversees misdemeanor offenses, was established in Douglas County.
Dettmering has been rumored to be retiring rather than seeking another term in 2018, but the Sentinel was unable to confirm that fact Tuesday.
Fortner said he respects Dettmering and made the decision because he’s ready for the next step in his career.
“I’ve just come to that point in my career where I’ve been prosecuting over 17 years and I’m ready to make a transition to the next step,” Fortner said. “I think I can bring that experience and everything that I’ve learned to the bench. It’s just a transitionary step. I don’t know if it’s a promotion or demotion — different people I guess would see it different ways. It’s just a different way to serve this community that I think more fits where I am inside.
“And when God puts something on your heart and you feel it, you have to make a decision that you’re going to follow it and I feel this is what’s best for me and my family and frankly for this community because I think I can do a good job as a judge and give them somebody they can believe in.”
Fortner is an Atlanta native and graduate of the Georgia State University College of Law.
He started out as an assistant district attorney in Douglas County in 2001 and served in that capacity until 2007 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to be Douglas County Solicitor General, the position charged with prosecuting cases in state court.
Fortner moved back to the DA’s Office in April of 2012 as chief assistant district attorney. In May of 2014, he was appointed acting district attorney by Gov. Nathan Deal when the county’s former longtime DA resigned.
Fortner ran as a Republican in 2014 and won the four-year term he will complete next year, narrowly defeating Democrat Dalia Racine. Fortner received 19,005 votes in the race (50.63 percent) to Racine’s 18,530 votes (49.37 percent).
Racine, a Douglasville resident who works as an assistant district attorney in DeKalb County, and Deah Warren, a ADA under Fortner in Douglas County, are both rumored to be running as Democrats for the DA post that will be open with Fortner running for state court judge. Neither Racine nor Warren have filed the initial paperwork with the state to declare officially they are running. However, it’s early, with qualifying and primaries still months away.
While the DA’s race is partisan, the state court judgeship Fortner seeks is nonpartisan, which he said was among the things about running for the position that appealed to him.
“That is important to me because you know if you’ve followed me I’ve built a coalition across party lines across Republican and Democrat supporters,” Fortner said. “This takes the partisan politics out of it and it’s rightfully so. I personally think the DA’s office should be a nonpartisan position because literally the only partisan thing you do is write a partisan check for qualifying.”
Fortner has been a big proponent of criminal justice reform that has widespread support from Deal and others.
Accountability courts are one of the areas that Fortner said excite him most about being a state court judge. State court judges oversee both the DUI court and misdemeanor drug court in Douglas County and work with the superior court judges on the mental health court.
“The accountability courts are honestly one of the most exciting things about criminal justice reform altogether for me,” Fortner said. “And it really has changed the way I view things and given me a great sense of justice, and I'm very excited about taking part in one of those from a judicial standpoint.”
Currently, State Court Judge Eddie Barker oversees the DUI court and Dettmering oversees the misdemeanor drug court. Fortner said if he wins the state court judgeship he is seeking, Barker would become the senior judge and would determine which judge oversees which accountability court.